Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997)

waco the rules of engagement poster 1997 documentary
8.0 Overall Score

Solid investigation of the events surrounding the raid on the Branch Davidians

Very dry

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Waco:  The Rules of Engagement

Studio:  Fifth Estate Productions

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  September 19, 1997

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

waco the rules of engagement david koresh brach davidians


On April 19, 1993, a fifty-one day siege at the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians ended with fire and the deaths of eighty-six people as the FBI moved in. While some ATF agents were killed, eighty-two of casualties were Branch Davidians and many of that number were made up of children and older members. With answers needed, Congressional hearings began on Waco…but the truth may not be there.

Directed by William Gazecki, Waco: The Rules of Engagement is a documentary covering the end of the siege and the events that followed it. The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

I can remember the months of the Waco Siege. In school, you questioned each day if it would end and how it would end. While it seemed like the siege would end with a whimper, the event was literally a bang…and discourse on the event spewed forth ever since.

waco the rules of engagement atf agents

Who knew what…and what was done about it

The documentary is obviously “pro” Davidians (or at least anti-FBI and ATF). The research put into the project is solid, and the footage is constantly being used to disprove things said at the Congressional hearings and to the media. Claims that sound wasn’t being used against the Davidians is directly disproved with smart editing which mixes the clips of the music blaring. It raises the question of lying and makes you ask what else was lied about.

The film doesn’t actually go much into the standoff or what caused it. It talks about the idea that weapons were behind the search (but also argues that the Davidians were simply dealing in guns like other collectors), and that is why the ATF were initially involved. The claims quickly switched to accusations of molestation which doesn’t fall under the ATF’s umbrella. While molestation is wrong, the argument is that the standoff shouldn’t have happened because the officers weren’t there for the right legal reasons.

waco the rules of engagement congressional hearings

The hearings

The real and very questionable part of the story raised by the documentary is the use of force against the Branch Davidians. The people in the hearings testify that only the Branch Davidians fired shots at the agents while video after video and recording after recording demonstrates that it was most likely not the case. The use of flash grenades and the dangerous mix of fighting sparked a fire…the question is did the Davidians commit suicide by starting the fire themselves or did the attack start it? The documentary does a strong job presenting that the FBI and ATF were responsible for the massive deaths despite this not being proven in the hearings.

Waco resulted in horrors that continued after the events transpired. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was a reaction to the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco (and executed on the same date of the raid). This documentary shows that the evidence of a government conspiracy (or at least departmental conspiracy) are very possibly true. The film’s writer Michael McNulty followed this film with Waco: A New Revelation in 1999 and The F.L.I.R. Project in 2001 which both further explored the events.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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